Iran expanding enrichment capacity after IAEA demanded increased cooperation, diplomats say

Iran is responding to last week’s UN nuclear watchdog board resolution against it by expanding its uranium-enrichment capacity at two underground sites, but the escalation is not as big as many had feared, diplomats say.

The IAEA Board passed a resolution a week ago calling on Iran to step up cooperation with the IAEA and reverse its recent barring of inspectors despite earlier US concerns Tehran would respond with atomic escalation.

Iran bristles at such resolutions by the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation Board of Governors, and it reacted to the previous one 18 months earlier by enriching to up to 60% purity, close to weapons grade, at a second site and announcing a large expansion of its enrichment program.

This time it plans to install more cascades, or clusters, of centrifuges, the machines that enrich uranium, at both its underground enrichment sites, five diplomats say. IAEA inspectors observing Iran’s progress plan to issue a report to member states on Thursday, according to three of the diplomats.

“It’s not as much as I would expect,” one Vienna-based diplomat says, referring to the scale of Iran’s escalation.

“Why? I don’t know. Maybe they’re waiting for the new government,” they add, referring to the death in a helicopter crash last month of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and the presidential election due to be held on June 28.

Diplomats did not go into specifics on the number or type of centrifuges being added or what level they would enrich to, though one diplomat says they would not be used to quickly expand Iran’s production of uranium enriched to up to 60%, close to the 90% of weapons-grade.

The diplomats say they will wait to see what the IAEA says Iran had actually done but they were aware of Iran’s plans.

The move is “at the lower end of expectations and something we’re pretty sure they were going to do anyway,” one diplomat explains, meaning it would have happened even without the resolution.

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